A Stealthy Entry into the World of Digital Print
Lithographix Breaks the Offset Barrier with Digital Print and Finishing Solutions
by Gretchen A. Peck
Part 4 of a 4-part Series
When Lithographix of Hawthorne, CA was founded more than a half-century ago, it was a "simple sheetfed operation," according to George Wolden, the print company’s VP of manufacturing. And it remained a sheetfed shop up until 15 years ago when heatset web presses were added to the shop floor, as well as additional bindery and finishing tools to support the thriving offset business.
By 2004, the company had literally outgrown the building it occupied, so president Herb Zebrack embarked on a ten-month renovation project and moved operations to a former aerospace hangar, where Northrop Grumman had once built Stealth fighters. "It’s a huge building, with a very cool history," Wolden attests.
While Lithographix settled into its new home, the management team decided that it would no longer stay "settled" in the same-old, same-old. It was time for a new business model, as well. The company set out to be a one-stop shop for its loyal clientele.
"Three years ago, we got into the outdoor market," Wolden recalls. "We started out with a couple five-meter-wide digital printers for producing billboards and other types of outdoor products."
The company was perfectly poised to tap into the large format segment, largely due to its well-established customer base that predominantly hailed from the advertising and entertainment industries.
"It was a very natural evolution for us," Wolden explains.
Today, Lithograhix runs six digital roll-fed printers—four VUTEk 5330s and two VUTEk 3360s—and two, ten-foot VUTEk QS 3200 flatbeds.
The acquisition of the digital print engines necessitated some additional investment in finishing tools.
"We have two industrial-strength sewing machines and two welders—one of which is the longest system out there, a 100-foot Miller Weldmaster," Wolden explains.
"Sewing definitely has a place when you’re working with certain types of material. We produce a lot of banners on mesh, for example, and we sew those—especially for treatments like pole pockets. But when you’re dealing with vinyls—the substrate we deal most with—you need the welders for heat-seaming those jobs," Wolden states.
"Whenever we buy equipment, we create tests that will be indicative of the work we do here," he continues. "We want to know exactly how that piece of equipment is going to perform in the real world. We also want to know about the vendor’s reputation for service, and what the expected longevity of their solution is going to be."
While there’s an obvious distinction between which jobs coming in are bound for offset versus the large format digital engines, the lines separating offset and digital finishing are more easily blurred.
Lithographix has a 110-inch Seybold paper cutter that multitasks in both arenas, for example.
"Anything we can cut on that device, we will," Wolden explains. "We also have highly skilled operators that are well-versed in all our bindery and finishing equipment, so if we have the need to pull a few people from offset into digital finishing—or vice versa—we can easily do that."
Wolden confides that he’s keeping close tabs on what’s happening in the finishing systems market. "The next things we’ll probably look into are the automated trimming and cutting devices. There’s still an awful lot of hand-trimming that’s involved in our large format business, so down the road, we’d like to see that facilitated by some trimming and cutting tools."
Lithographix is producing a diverse array of big print—movie posters, signage, POP displays, standees, and much more. And the addition of digital print engines and finishing complements is enabling the company to branch out into new markets.
"We’re starting to get a lot more retail business," Wolden notes. "I’d say, out of our $130 million dollars in annual revenue, only 10 to 15 percent is derived from retail, but we definitely see that as an opportunity for growth."